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Finding the “Work” in Student Social Networking (Part 2)

by Neil Finney

We recommend that you read Part 1 first.

Rather than simply focusing on ‘starting where they are,’ – what if we try to ‘begin with what they’re doing?’

MobileDevicesHere are some ways social networking can work for us:

1. Students invest their own time each day socially networking. For some of our students, they spend the day in our classrooms thinking about what they want to post or find out about as soon as they leave at the end of class. If we can include these passions and interests in our lessons, we can engage them in what interests them.

2. Students put in the effort to keep up and stay informed/involved. From monitoring #hashtags and what’s ‘trending’ to getting updates about Pinterest accounts they follow, many of our students have built quite a social network in which they participate in self-regulated, self-directed ways.  The give-and-take shown in the way they converse online is a terrific way to reinforce accountable talk and collaborative sharing opportunities with their classmates – using explicit examples of turn-taking, respect and politeness shown in some of their ‘networked’ conversations .

3. Students have a sincere wish to belong. Whether online or within our school walls, students are seeking out relationships and personal networks that complement their interests and help them carve out their social niche. Discuss the importance, and sometimes, danger, of choosing where and to what they belong and participate. As a very important critical literacy skill, our students could be equipped with the tools needed to make appropriate online choices that protect them from cyber-bullying, harassment and privacy issues.

4. Students want their voice to be heard. It could be that the quietest student in our room has the loudest, most provocative online voice. Without asking about their online experiences and behaviours, we can be naive to our students’ passions and ideas. This is often how students champion their causes now – not in our journals, but on their social status updates.

5. Students want to make their mark on the world – often with creativity and originality. Finding new ways of inventing themselves through online web creations, social networking apps and personalized blogs, our students re-work and re-imagine themselves in response to an ever-changing social world.

Specifically ask students about online activity. Approach students with an inquiring mind. You may be surprised at what you find out about the most reserved among them.


How have you tried to include and celebrate social networking tools in your teaching practice? What explicit lessons or learning skills have you been able to address through student activities and experiences?



During Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.


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  • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

    Neil, this is a great post! I use lots of social networking with my students. We often have Twitter hashtags where students tweet their learning throughout the day or in a specific subject (e.g., after creating a real life example of ratios, they tweeted their work and/or their thinking using the hashtag, #ratios6bd). This is a great way to share learning, but also respond to what others are doing.

    We also use blogs to share our work with the world. We have a class blog where students post many of their bigger assignments. We just completed a Poetry and The Arts activity, where students wrote and shared poems (using one of THE ARTS). All of these poems were inspired by photographs shared by Commander Hadfield. I tweeted out these blog posts once they were up, and students were thrilled to hear that teachers from the US were retweeting and commenting on their work. They have a real audience for what they’re sharing now.

    Social networks can be powerful tools to use in the classroom! I look forward to hearing about how others use them.


    • neil

      Aviva – thanks for your great examples of using social media tools! I truly believe that Twitter is a terrific way for students – and teachers – to connect with the global learning community. Like the “pen pals” activity of when I was a kid – tweet teams could revolutionize the way that they interact with others and collaborate in the name of learning. You have built-in a relevant and authentic way for your classroom to “matter” in the context of learning in the world today. In doing this, you will no doubt encounter tremendous teachers and connect with phenomenal students in their quest to learn. Your students are learning how to create their own “personal learning networks” in elementary school. Wow!

      Can’t wait to hear how others are using these inspiring tools!